Idol Chit-Chat
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Monday, April 4, 2011

Mandisa: "I love what I get to do for a living"

Today I had the opportunity to speak to my all-time favorite female “Idol” contestant, the always inspiring Mandisa. Our main topic was her new album, “What If We Were Real” which comes out tomorrow, but we also talked about her struggles with her weight, and of course, “American Idol.”

Here is the interview in its entirety. And let me warn you, you will be inspired…

How would you describe the album to someone who hasn’t heard it?

If they’ve never heard my music before it’s kind of rockin’ and fun and upbeat but very real at the same time. I talk about some things that I personally have not heard in a lot of Christian music albums before. But if it’s somebody who’s familiar with my music, I would probably want to give them a warning that it’s a little bit edgier than some of my other things, only because where I was when I was recording was just at an edgier place in my life. I mean, things were not great. And I felt a little hopeless and dejected about some things and so when I began the album process I started there. But it’s because I was honest with the Lord and was real about my emotions and the things that I was going through that by the end I was in a great place. I just felt very close to the Lord realizing that he was my everything and I had to depend on him. So where I ended was very different than where I began but there are definitely different music styles that are reflected in the whole album because of the different places that I was in the process.

You do get down and get funky [on the album]. And I mean that as a compliment.

There are some funky moments and then there are some rock moments. And some ballad moments. I think it kind of runs the gamut, which is a little bit more like my first album. I was all over the place. I guess that some people don’t like that, but that’s kind of who I am. I mean, I listen to everything—everything from rock to country to R&B to hip-hop. Everything is on my iPod. I think that that’s going to be reflected in my music. But even more than that, I want the songs to reflect what’s happening in my life. So if my life isn’t all roses and great things, I don’t want to pretend like it is. So, you get a little bit of that on this album as well.

Do you think it’s your best one yet?

I do. [Laughs] I was scared going into it that it would not be. I feel like I have a lot to live up to and I hope this doesn’t sound braggadocious, because there’s really no way I can say that without explaining that my first two albums were both nominated for Grammys for Pop Gospel Album of the Year and you know, Dove Awards, and there’s been such critical acclaim that when you are releasing another one, you feel like you kind of have to live up to that. It scares me a little bit and I know there are a lot of expectations from my label and different people so that can be frightening. But I honestly, regardless of what happens, I try not to measure my success by those things. I mean, I appreciate those things, but I really try to measure it by the impact that it has. And I believe that this album has the potential to have the biggest impact just because it’s my most honest and because I’m talking about things that are so personal to me that I think it would have to have an impact on people. So, that’s why I think it’s my best.

Speaking of things that are personal to you, your struggles with weight are well noted. For people out there who are struggling through that same thing, what kind of advice would you give them?

My advice is to take it one day at a time, to not look at how far you have to go. When I started, I weighed over 300 pounds. And if I looked at, oh my gosh, am I ever going to get to the point where I’m at a healthy weight, I probably never would have started because it would’ve been overwhelming to me. Instead, I looked at I don’t need to worry about tomorrow. And that’s one of my scriptures. In Matthew 6, it says not to worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough worries of its own. Matthew 6:34. Instead, I just looked at today. What can I do today? Can I move more today than I did yesterday? Can I eat healthy today instead of going to fast food or to Krispy Kreme? When I took it just one step at a time, it made it easier. But then also, when I depended not just on my own willpower, but I really made this about obedience to the Lord and really wanting my body to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. That changed the focus for me because it made it less about the numbers on the scale and less about trying to lose this certain amount of weight and it made it more about my relationship with the Lord. And that’s why, I mean, I’ve lost close to 120 pounds, but even more than that I can say I have gained much more than I lost because I feel closer to the Lord than I ever have. I feel joy, I feel stronger, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do. And so I feel like those are actually the benefits I reached more than the pounds that came off. I appreciate that more than anything.

What’s the number one question people still ask you about “American Idol”?

The number one question is, Is Simon Cowell as big of a jerk in real life as he is on TV. And the answer, unfortunately, I feel like I disappoint people, is that we had to sign a non-fraternization agreement that said that we wouldn’t really have contact with them outside of the show and what we do on the show. So while I was on the show, my only interaction with Simon was on the stage. I will say that since then, I’ve seen him a couple of places and he’s been very, very sweet and he says he’s so proud of me and he tells me that I look great and so my guess is that is how he is when it comes to the music business. But as a person I really do see that there’s a heart in there. I don’t know. I’ve got hope for him. And I pray for Simon because I really believe that if God got a hold of that mouth that there are some great things that could come out of it.

In my opinion, your season (season five) has always been the best and really set the bar. But I think this season might be giving you guys a run for your money. What do you think?

I completely agree, Angela. I’ve been saying that. I know I’m biased but I really do believe that season five, when you just look at the people who were on that show, they’re fantastic. And most of them are still doing music and have careers in music and are still doing really well. So, I agree with that. But I will say this season has got some amazing talent on there. And it’s not just potential, you know, that these people will have great careers. You know, time is still the tell for that. But I think more than anything, watching the show, I’m the most entertained watching this season than I have been on any other season. So, I think it’s fantastic.

You’re on tour with Anita Renfroe and then you’re going to do some Women of Faith shows?

I’m in LA right now and I’m going to film some TV shows for my album release and then I fly home on Wednesday. I’m home for like two hours to do laundry and to pack. And then I’ve got a show with Anita and then straight to my first Women of Faith. And then a crazy radio tour for like the next week and then we resume back with Anita coming up soon. The rest of the year is Anita, Women of Faith, some festivals and different spot dates here and there. But I’m definitely going to be busy. It’s going to be a good year.

Even though you’re busy, I know that those experiences are really amazing for you and for the people who attend.

I love what I get to do for a living and I pray that I’m not just entertaining. I certainly want to entertain too because I’m known to dance and shake my tailfeather while I’m up on stage. And of course I want to sound good. But more than anything I really believe that God has allowed me to do this not just to entertain but to really give hope and encouragement. So I always pray that people leave feeling that more than just being entertained. So, I can’t believe I get to do that for a living. It’s amazing.

Last year, I had the chance to be part of a Read-In for Women’s History Month where women read stories by women and about empowering women. And I actually read from your book (“Idoleyes”). I shared the chapter about your experience with Simon and what he said about you after your audition. I felt that was a very empowering story that I wanted to share with the women that were there.

Thank you. I think it just goes to show that even walking through difficult times, I’ve got a song on my album called “Stronger” and it basically says that. That when we walk through those difficult times and we walk through them with the Lord, he really can bring us out stronger than we went in. And I think that just brings hope to people that when you are going through hard stuff that it’s not going to end there. And God really can bring some beauty from the ashes. He certainly did in that situation and he can for other people facing difficult times too.

You can read my review of “What If We Were Real” here.

Photos Credit: K Barlowe/Sparrow Records & EMI Music/Sparrow Records